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Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken

The Rating System

Kex Liked It:
It Sucked:
It Really Sucked:
It Sucked as bad as Eyes Wide Shut:

It Sucked badly enough to bring the world to the brink of apocalypse:


Space Cowboys

Last Week: Space Cowboys:

I went into this movie fully expecting to end up writing a review blasting it into space dust, but this one pulled off the amazingly rare feat of winning me over. Perhaps we are softening a bit at K.A.W., at least to the point of grading movies on a curve. But after a year in which entertaining cinematic moments have been as uncommon as bathing in France, this film was a true delight.

Yes, it was a mixed bag, which is probably both the worst and best thing you can say about it. This is the second movie Hollywood has created since an agreement was signed with the National Aeronautics and Space administration granting film makers full access and rights to utilize NASA sites, locations and symbols freely in films. The first was the rather disappointing Mission To Mars last March, which didn't do much to take advantage of the access.

By contrast, this film utilized NASA properties exquisetly to enhance the film's visual qualities and atmosphere. A great deal of it was filmed on location at Johnson Space Center in Houston, and other important segments were filmed at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. The writers and directors also boned up a bit on shuttle operations, and while they made some almost appalling gaffs technically, they were all forgivable. The film is, afterall, a fantasy.

I think everyone knows what the basic premise of the movie is, so I'm not going to do too much by way of summation. Essentially, the film opens way back in 1958 when the world still existed in black and white. The Air Forces' elite team of pilots, Project Dadealus, was flying the high powered X-planes toward the goal of putting men into space. Here we note the films first significant technical blunder, as the team is shown flying the already obsolete X-1, rather than something more contemporary, like the X-15, but oh well....

After pushing a test flight too far and having to eject, pilots Frank Corvin (who ages into Clint Eastwood) and Hawk Hawkins (later Tommy Lee Jones) learn that the project is being cancelled, and a civilian organization, NASA, is taking over future manned space efforts. Corvin becomes an aeronautical engineer and Hawkins flies crop dusters. The other two key team members go their seperate ways as well: Tank (James Garner) becomes a Baptist Minister, and Jerry (Donald Sutherland) is an engineer who mostly designs roller coasters for amusement parks.

When a Russian satellite is discovered to be out of control and destined to crash into earth, it is discovered to have a guidance system that was designed by Corvin. The system is so antiquated that none of the contemporary engineers at NASA can decipher it, so they turn to Corvin for help. He agrees on the condition that the Dadealus team be allowed to fly up and effect repairs.

Eastwood stars in and directs the film, which was refreshing considering that he is coming off a pretty poor film making decade. After a promising start in the early 90's with the academy award winning The Unforgiven, Eastwood followed up with a lot of unbearable crap like Perfect World, Absolute Power, and Bridges of Madison County which we at K.A.W. consider to be an effort bordering on a crime against humanity.

In a way the film's strong suit was a source of discomfort as well. For the first time, we see a film in which Eastwood is actually portraying and old man. In point of fact he is, now in his early 70's. Somehow it is an uncomfortable vision, reminding we late arriving boomers that the sands of time are pouring away for all of us. Similarly, we must deal with the aging of James Garner and Donald Sutherland. Garner is still a reasonably handsome man at 72, but he looks as if he did a lot of rehearsal for this film at Winchell's. Sutherland is the junior of the trio at 66, but he looks like Father Time has been kicking his ass pretty badly the last few years.

Perhaps the films biggest aesthetic gaff was the casting of Tommy Lee Jones as the fourth member of the group. Its not that his performance is anything less than the exemplary effort we have come to expect from Jones, but he is just too young for the part. Jones is in his early 50's, and we grant that he looked like he was in his fifties 20 years ago. But he still looks like he is in his 50's, and that rather detracted from the overall credibility of the film.

I guess there is something here that speaks to the underlying magic of the movies, and TV as well. It is as close as we will likely ever get to a true time machine. I can pop a little rectangular object into a device atop my TV and Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keeton can return from the great beyond to entertain me once again....even transporting me back to a simpler time and place.

For a couple of decades now, I have occasionally been able to watch a couple of young boys argue the merits of taste testing a particular breakfast cereal, only to decide to dump the chore onto their bratty 3 year old brother, Mikey. Alas, as soon as I turn off the TV, we return to the present where little Mikey is now pushing 40 and probably selling aluminum siding in Topeka.

If you are heading out to the movies this weekend, you are going to have a couple of other well publicized choices. First there is Coyote Ugly, and I'm betting its Coyote Awful. Kex's sources say that this one is a dead on remake of Showgirls without the nudity, so I'll pass. If I'm going to shoot even 5 minutes watching a movie about women dancing on a bar, that "R" rating better be damned well earned. Or you could try out Hollow Man, and again, Kex's sources in the field are reporting that a more appropriate title would have been "Hollow Movie."

I am going to close by giving this movie a recommendation entirely unique since I've been doing these reviews: This is the first film I have seen in 14 months that I not only would go see again, I probably will see it again. The second time around is probably going to be filled with a lot more critical analysis that is going to destroy a lot of it, but this was a fun fun fun movie. Go see it. BTW, its okay for the kids too.

Last Week: The Others:

Jerry Seinfeld once said that magicians are basically performers who really hate their audience. What a magican essentially does for the length of their show is to stand in front of a group of people and say "Now you see it, now you don't, you're and idiot." This week's movie, The Others is in a new class of films in which the director takes on the role of stage magician. The audience is led down a path of deception, in this case, for 104 minutes, only to learn that the director is setting them up to be called idiots by the not so surprising surprise ending.

To establish another sort of metaphor, watching The Others is a lot like reading one of those painfully dry 18th century British novels that are beloved by dried up English literature teachers who last got laid about the year they were written, but bore the living shit out of everyone else. Nobody else really wants to read that crap, and if any of the novels really have anything important to say about the human condition, its far to buried in boring crap to weed out. Besides, authors who lived 200 years ago really don't have much to say about the contemporary human condition.

Nicole Kidman stumbles her way through this film occasionally coughing out the worst British accent since Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. That is when she bothers to use it... Of course, that isn't the worst thing she has to do in this film. She also sings part of a song that won't be written for most of 20 years, as the movie is set in 1945. But what the hell; in Moulin Rouge she had to dance to songs that were several decades into the stories future as well.

Grace (Kidman) is some sort of British governess who lives in a run down estate off the British Jersey coast. She has two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) with no acting ability and a photo sensitivity to light. As a consequence to the latter, she must always keep all of the shades in the house drawn, and lock all doors behind her, lest the children break out in sores and blisters.

Grace's compliment of servants have mysteriously fled the house, and she is looking for a new crew. Fortunately, a trio led by Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flannagan) show up at her door one day applying for the position. Grace hires them, and gives them an endless tour of the house and a rundown of the locked door rule. By this point, we are wondering if the theater exits are locked.

Since the children can't go outside, Grace handles their education herself. It mostly involves pious biblical lessons. When she isn't teaching the children, she is mostly giving bitchy lectures to the new servants, admonitioning them at length with regard to the importance of the house rules.

Frankly it all seems a little unnecessary, because the house is perpetually shrouded in a pea-soup fog that doesn't let any light in anyway. And Grace seems a less worthy alternative to the Nazis her husband went off to fight. That's why he isn't around, although we wondered if he just didn't want to get away from her. Nonetheless Grace seems to be proud of the fact that the Nazi's never set foot in her house during the "occupation." Apparently the writers of this movie were unaware that the Nazis never occupied any portion of the British Isles.

The dark tone and gloomy atmosphere of this film leads toward a "surprise" ending that couldn't have been less obvious from early on if it had been presented in a rolling subtitle across the bottom of the screen every 3 minutes. I won't give it away for the benefit of those who haven't seen the film, but if you don't figure it out, you probably still think Wiley has a real shot at catching the Roadrunner every time he gets a new package from Acme. By the way...Elmer never kills the wabbit either.

Admittedly, this was the best of the crop of summer ghost stories I've seen over the past couple of years. That isn't to say it was good, because the competition isn't exactly fierce. I suspect that the general feeling of watching this movie is a little like what women must experience when the batteries run out in old "buzz" just when things are getting good. The tension and suspense are built agonizingly over a long haul, then you are left angry and frustrated. Next time, just give old Kex a call...satisfaction guaranteed, and the batteries never wear out ;-).

What passes for building tension in this film is highlighted mostly by dialog. For instance, at one point, Anne begins speaking of seeing an apparently incorporeal being, a little boy named Victor. Victor's father is a pianist. (__________________________) <---K.A.W. reviews are now interactive. Insert your own "six inch pianist" joke in the space provided. The Others won't entirely disapppoint, but it won't entirely satisfy either. There are some chilling moments, but they are so lost in tedious blabfest that they aren't worth extracting.

Last Week: Sex and Lucia (bad even beyond my usual ratings)

Its a long way from L.A. to Denver
Its a long time to hang in the sky,
Its a long way home to Starwood in Aspen...

I'm back home again for the weekend as I write, with only two more weeks to spend in SoCal. Its truly difficult to express how much I'm looking forward to the end of this stretch. Anyway, as usual, the movie review comes to you this week from the friendly surroundings of home.

With nothing of particular interest among the major releases this week, we scanned the paper for something that looked of interest among the independent films. What caught my eye almost immediately was a Spanish import called (as translated) Sex and Lucia. The most significant attraction this film had to offer was the claim in one of the ads that it was, "the most erotic film ever made."

Now if that won't grab your attention, I'm not sure what will...Wow, the most erotic film ever made. I'm already picturing herds of voluptuous, young cheerleaders, a mob a well toned specimens of manhood, a heard of goats....well, maybe not the goats, but at least the former two groups engaged in a two hour orgy going at it like minks on viagra.

The bad news here is that whoever claimed that this was the most erotic film ever (step forward and take a bow, Jim Svejda, CBS Network Radio) probably hasn't really got out of the house much. In fact, I didn't find this movie erotically appealing at all. I'd be very close to noting that this film could singlehandedly make a strong argument for imposing enormous future embargoes on the exportation of motion picture equipment and technology. Unfortunately, this week's big domestic releases were XXX and Blood Work which invalidates the argument.

I really hated the last Vin Diesel movie I saw, and this sounds like another one of those movies where I'm supposed to pull for some guy who spends as much time breaking the law as defending it. As the regulars here know, that kind of thing doesn't play at K.A.W. I don't give crap one if he manages to save the world. If he repeatedly breaks the law doing it, I say toss his sorry, bald, testerone poisoned white ass in jail at the end of the movie along with the bad guys. And what is Clint Eastwood (Bloodwork) now, about 80? When are we going to tire of seeing him running after bad guys? Hell, that hero in a wheelchair thing died with Raymond Burr and the Ironside series back in the 70's.

The most overpowering reaction that I had to Sex and Lucia as I walked out of the theater isn't all that difficult to express: "What the hell did I just watch?" To call this film enigmatic would be undersimplifying its approachability. I even read a short article about the film after seeing it that was written by the film's director/writer Julio Medem. He talked about how he made this film as a sort of fusion of two scripts he wanted to film.

Pardon me for putting words in Julio's mouth, but I think that it all sounds like a frantic attempt to develop one good idea out of two really bad ones. The result was a movie that sucked so bad, it might well cause the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to reconsider whether or not they want to continue to encourage filmmaking as an international enterprise.

It would be difficult to summarize the plot of this film, since we are essentially dealing with two entertwined stories, one a weird story written by one of the characters, who happens to be a writer, and the other an even weirder account of his life and those of other people surrounding him. The story starts near the end, then flashes back, then picks up the tale from where we began. In other words, even its structure is a jumbled mess.

In essence, we follow the life of a writer who is living with a beautiful woman (Lucia) who introduces herself to him in a bar. She doesn't really know him, but somehow decides that she would rather live with him than her boss, who happens to love her. But 6 years earlier, the writer had a one nighter in the ocean with a total stranger, who ends up with child as the result of the encounter.

The writer finds out about the baby when his best friend informs him of her existance. It happens that the writer's best friend has a sister, who has befriended the object of the writer's encounter So the writer tries to get closer to his child by warming up to his friend's sister, who is sort of a nanny to the little girl. One night the girl's mother and her lover are going out, so the writer plots to sleep with the girl's nanny, thus cheating on Lucia. But the whole situation ends in tragedy with the nanny's dog attacks and kills the little girl. As you can imagine, whatever erotic qualities the film might have built up at this point pretty much dropped down the crapper. Not only does the thought of a 6 year old girl being torn apart by a dog discourage one's libido, but it took me about 10 minutes to figure out that the disaster happened. The imagery in the film was so subtle that I couldn't figure out whether it was the girl or the dog that got killed.

Making this film even more annoying, the penned story sequences are filmed in some sort of brother technology to technicolor; I think it must be called sucknicolor. It also didn't help that the film was subtitled, and I think most people could arouse more erotic feeling by reading Letters to Penthouse." At least very few of them feature references to pit bulls ripping apart little girls. But if things like that represent expressions of erotica to either Jeff Svejda or Julio Medem, I think somebody ought to be keeping very close tabs on their whereabouts from now on.

Last Week: Open Range:

Before we get started this week, I have a couple of special messages to send along. First of all, to all my readers in the northeast: I know you can't actually see this, but I'm sure your imaginations will suffice. Watch this:
*Click* Lights on
*Click* Lights off
*Click* Lights on
*click* Lights off

Now one for Bill Gates:

*pitch pipe* mmmmmmmmmmmm
Sing along everyone: The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout*

We were going to see Le Divorce this week, but the more I heard about it, and the more previews I saw, the more inclined I was to believe that it would cause me to hurl le cookies. So we opted for Open Range instead. There was a big improvement.

I haven't seen a good western in a long time. After seeing Open Range, I still haven't seen a good western in a long time. I think it is probably time for Hollywood to face up to a cold fact. The genre is deader than a Kevin Costner's career. This is a project involving two corpsicles colliding in the night.

This is an amalgamation, or ripoff if you prefer, of pretty much every western ever made. There are shades of High Noon, a touch of High Plains Drifter and whatever western you can imagine. Actually, that isn't hard, because they are mostly the same anyway.

The variation here is that you suffer through a couple of hours of Kevin Costner droning on about this and that until you start to wish he'd get trampled by his own cattle. Then the big payoff finally comes. That, of course, is the big shootout, and the director even found a way to make that more annoying than exciting.

Kevin Costner is Charley Waite, and Robert Duvall is "Boss Spearman," two free range cattlemen who roam the old prarie together. The curious point of their relationship is that they have apparently not spoken more than a dozen words to each other over the course of their 10 year relationship. Neither knows jack about the other. I don't think that really surprises me, because I suspect that everytime Waite starts talking, his monotone probably puts old Boss right to sleep.

The duo rides along with two other sidekicks: First there is a young French boy named "Button,' (Diego Luna) who they picked up somewhere in their travels. I guess they decided he'd be better off riding along with them than getting a decent education somewhere. Then there is "Mose," played by Abraham Benrubi. He has the disctinction now of having appeared in two really awful Costner movies, after making an appearance in The Postman a few years ago. His main function in the film is too get the crap beat out of him before he gets killed. I'd think his career is probably suffering similarly.

Ultimately, Charley and Boss have a big shootout with the local cattlebaron, Denton Boyle (Michael Gambon) and his men. The entire battle is pretty confusing, and some of Boyle's men appear to end up getting killed, only to return to the battle moments later. I had a little trouble following what was going on, because directors these days seem to think that making scenes confusing and tough to follow is trendy. My word is crappy.

After the first round of the battle, Boyle rallies what is left of his forces, and demands that Charley and Boss surrender. That was more unintentionally hilarious than dramatic, since the two had already wiped out the small army of Boyle's men. But the ensuing conversation between Boyle and our two heros made things even worse, since Gambon forced a really awful and indecipherable Irish brogue. It sounded something like this:

Charley: Well........I........reckon.........the carcus........right..........into.......hell.

Boyle: Rghmenp mitto umpsu rigetta nikkkooo pimsssulna barmmattala eco enta imrum sol parumph.

Boss: What the hell did he say?

Boyle: icky nutaa plora sagum disa retta didla oompa!

Boss: Dammit!

Charley: Don',..... I'm....


Oh, by the way, Costner gets the girl along the way. He falls in love with the town doctor's sister, played by Annette Bening. Its a little hard to understand what she sees in him. Its certainly not his quick wit or way with words. I guess its just because he is the only single guy she has seen in about 20 years, which probably explains a lot. If you have no basis for comparison, a dandelion might as well be a rose.

Incidentally, the town Boss and Charley are trying to save from the evil cattlebaron is not worth fighting for anyway. Close as I can tell, it rains enough there to make Seattle look like a desert. Curiously, however, after one of a series of torrential downpours, Charley and Boss walk outside, and there is no mud or standing water in sight. I guess the director forgot about the rainstorm the previous night.

If you walk out of the theater with the impression that you have finally awakened from a really boring dream, congratulations. You probably actually stayed awake through the movie. Otherwise, don't worry. The nap you had was almost certainly more worthwhile than the film.

Previously: Vanity Fair:

There was a credit note at the end of this film that no animals were harmed in the course of its production. But as close as I could tell, cast and crew members must have been dropping like George Bush's approval rating. It took a good 5 minutes just to roll past all of the closing credits that listed all of the people who received loving memory dedications. Either everyone who was involved with the production got an opportunity to list their departed loved ones in the credits, or the ennui of carrying out the production was deadlier than Rambo in Hanoi on a bad hair day.

Vanity Fair is of course based on Thackery's Victorian novel of the same name. Back in those days, most novels were published in serialized form, and generally the authors were paid by the word. As a consequence, like most novels of that era, it is a plodding, 850 page gargantuan of a work that gets sidetracked off onto all sorts of irrelevant plotlines and drifts off with some frequency to follow the exploits of expendable characters that have nothing to do with the central story.

The film is only slightly less tedious. In fact, its precisely like one of those awful "classic" works that are so beloved by dried-up, senile-before-their-time literature teachers who take perverse enjoyment in making their students suffer through these literary odysseys. In point of fact, just about all the teachers ever accomplish is to beat any love their students may have, or potentially develop for reading out of them for the rest of their lives.

Okay, let me state right here that not all of the "classic" novels are thinly-veiled published equivalents of inquisition torture. In fact, some of them, including a few of the Victorian era, are truly wonderful works, worthy of surviving the ages. Unfortunately, most of them are just pretentious crap, beloved only by the aforementioned literature teachers, who display their closet tendencies toward sadism by force feeding them to otherwise innocent students.

I know that there is a great love in Hollywood these days for producing sequels. Thackery never wrote another novel to reveal the rest of the life of his heroine Rebecca Sparks. The guess here is that he was also bored excrementless by the time he finished the original novel, and never wanted to pen the name Rebecca Sparks again, let alone tell more of her story.

That of course, is unlikely to deter the Hollywood studio heads in the improbable event that this movie ends up doing crap plus a dollar at the box office. So, as a dedicated public service, I'm going to issue this warning for the public good right now. If I even here a vague rumor that a script for Vanity Fair 2 is in development, I'm personally going to hop a plane to So Cal and burn Hollywood to the ground.

In this film adaptation of Vanity Fair, I think its about the 6th that has been undertaken, mysteriously enough, Rebecca Sparks is portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. In a recent film, Sweet Home Alabama, Witherspoon portrayed a white-trash girl who escaped rural Alabama to become a successful model, only to end up returning to her roots. In Vanity Fair, she is playing a white trash girl who escapes her circumstances and reach near aristocracy, only to be forced to return to her origins. I think we see a curious pattern developing here for Witherspoon's acting range.

In truth, the first 45 minutes of this film is almost tolerable. Things really fall apart when we are bombarded by the sight of old lady butt. That kind of thing can send a film south faster than a flashing blue light can clean out Doritos and salsa at K-Mart. Worse still, the few audience members that survive that visual equivalent to having an elephant tap dance on your nuts have to endure another hour and 45 minutes of painful blabfest.

Normally movie goers can visit their local theater for most of 3 years without having to endure the screen presence of Rhys Ifans. This was the second straight week I've had to survive his image on the silver screen, making me wonder if its time to dump this weekly public service and take up something safer, like cleaning skyscrapper windows on windy days. Not entirely surprisingly, he was the only guy named Rhys in this film, although one of the other actors had Rhys as a middle name. Seeing two movies in two weeks in which 4 actors are identified in some fashion by the name Rhys is probably a sure sign that apocalypse is only days away.

Also with major roles in this film were Gabriel Byrne as The Marquis of Steyne, Jim Broadbent as Mr. Osborne, James Purefoy as Rawdon Grawley and Ramola Garai as Amelia. I wanted to mention these names just so they would not be overlooked when the charges of crimes against humanity are ultimately filed against all of the guilty parties.

Last Week: The 40-Year Old Virgin:

A movie is in pretty serious trouble when its defining moment comes during a body waxing scene. Our main character, Andy (Steve Carell) has a mat on his chest that would make a sheep dog envious, and his friends think it will help in their efforts to get him laid if he has the fur waxed off. So they take him to have it done.

Poor Andy has to endure almost unthinkable pain to have the hair ripped off his chest. Still, its nothing compared to the agony the audience is enduring having to sit through this sad excuse for a comedy. As I watched that scene, I tried to decide whether I would rather endure Andy's pain, or sit through the rest of the movie. No contest. Andy was getting off easy.

As a rule, one joke movies are pretty difficult to endure. One joke movies that drag on for an inexplicable 2 hours are even more brutal. The premise of this film is that Andy is a 40-year old virgin who works in some kind of chain stereo/electronics store. Upon his revelation to his male coworkers that he has never been laid, they all immediately set out to find a woman willing to relieve him of his unusual condition.

The biggest problem is that Andy is pretty much of a moron, and his friends, David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Maleo) and Cal (Seth Rogen) almost make him look like the brightest star in the constellation by comparison. It isn't wildly surprising to anyone in the audience that Andy has never been laid. The shocker is that any of the other three ever have.

I know what most of the Kexkateers are thinking. How hard would it be for one of his friends to simply pick up the phone and call a woman who trades her favors for cash. I have little doubt that many of the Kexkateers are pretty expert on such matters. Still, the question is not a illegitimate one. Actually, an effort is made in that direction during the course of the plot, but it turns out that Andy's friends are such hopeless idiots that they can't tell the difference between an authentic female and a transvestite. So again, how did any of these guys ever get any?

Several issues complicate the quest to get Andy relieved of his lifelong sexless status. The first is the fact that Andy is something of a man-boy, who has spent a lifetime collecting toys. His apartment is absolutely crammed with them. I might note that once again, this is one of those movies where people who don't make very much money seem to live in circumstances well beyond what people in similar circumstances in real life would be able to afford. I'm not sure how Andy managed to collect so many cool toys on a retail flunky wage. Maybe movies would be more realistic if a few Hollywood writers ever tried to actually experience what its like to have to do so.

Not only does Andy have a massive collection of toys, but he doesn't own an automobile. He commutes to work on a bicycle that looks like PeeWee Herman's wet dream. In fact, the guess here is that PeeWee would have considerably more success in the standard singles bar than Andy or any of this friends. So, we have a guy with an apartment full of toys and video games who rides a bike to work where he brings home the bacon as a retail slug. There aren't a lot of women on this planet who will look at that situation and see the image of their personal Prince Charming.

Well, in the unlikely universe portrayed in this film, there is one. Trish (Catherine Keener) runs a little store across the street from the electronics store where Andy works. Her store doesn't have any actual merchandise. What she does is to sell other people's stuff on ebay.

Okay, I know that there are actually stores like that in existance, because some people suffer a debilatating condition commonly known in medical circles has hopeless laziness. Listing an item for sale on ebay is about as difficult as identifying rampant hypocrisy in a Pat Roberston 700 Club monologue. Still, there apparently are people who will drive across a large city to get someone else to list an item on ebay for them. Rampant stupidity and laziness, now epidemic in America, explains why the Repubicans have amassed control of every branch of government.

Still, Trish somehow manages to find Andy fascinating because he is apparently the only single man in southern California in the alternative universe this movie is set in. She does explain at one point that she never usually dates "nice" men like Andy, because she is more attracted to the dangerous types. In southern California, dangerous usually impies a body count, so its no wonder that she finds Andy intriguing.

For some reason, Andy is reluctant to tell Trish that he is a virgin. The guess here is that the news would strike a desperate single mom like Trish in much the same fashion that ringing the dinner bell at a $5 buffet brings John Goodman running. Ultimately, even Andy's toy collection doesn't deter her from reeling in her man.

There were a few funny moments in The 40-Year Old Virgin, but tedium was more characteristic. The ending was so insufferable it should have gotten somebody arrested, and the characters are universally contemptible. I got the feeling that somewhere along the line, somebody actually had an idea here for a movie that might have been fodder for an interesting character study about a guy more consumed with the fantasy world of collectible toys than interaction with other people. Alas, the film was dumbed down for mass appeal, and the more interesting story will have to await a director with some real balls and a working knowledge of what to do with them.

Previously: Flushed Away:

On the plus side, and there really is only one, Aardman has finally ditched claymation, a form of animation that should have been put to death brutally 30 years ago. The people who did Flushed Away are the same ones responsible for last year's Oscar winning Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Wererabbit. That led to at least some hope that their first venture into CGI might be worth a look.

On the other hand, the ability to fashion creepy looking animated characters out of clay is no guarantee that something of quality can be adapted to CGI. In fact, the characters in this movie are, if anything, more scary looking than the ones in Wallace and Grommit. The question arises, why would anyone abandon the restraints of working in a restrictive medium such as clay, only to deliberately fashion a movie that looks exactly like claymation?

Here is an even better question: Why in the world would anyone make a movie about rats? The central plot theme of this movie is that an evil toad who lives in the sewer is planning on opening a sewer door at halftime of the World Cup Soccer championship game. Since England is playing Germany, everyone in London will be watching, and take a break to go to the bathroom at halfime. By opening the sewer door at that moment, the evil frog will wipe out an entire city of London sewer rats.

Immediately, we ask the question: Who cares? Does anyone care if every rat in London's sewers gets wiped out? No. Does anyone in the U.S. care about soccer? No. Does anyone in America like rats better than frogs? Not many. On the general scale of things, frogs probably rate a little higher than rats, but not much.

In effect, we have a movie with creepy looking animated rats being menaced by a creepy looking animated frog who wants to drown them all with sewer water during a soccer game. Let's see here, rodents, amphibians, sewers and soccer. If someone could have figured out a way to work illegal aliens into the formula, you'd have had every imaginable reason to give the average audience member in America every reason not to like this movie. I'm guessing most of them won't.

So, we have this rat named Roddy who is a little girl's pet in some fashionable part of London. HIs owners go away on a short vacation, leaving him to fend for himself for a few days, which is no problem. He evidently pretty much has free run of the place. But his world is suddenly turned upside down when a sewer rat invades his home.

Roddy ends up getting flushed down the toilet, and finds himself in a sewer rat city where he is ill-equipped to function. He immediately begins to try to find help getting home. Instead he gets mixed up in a conflict between an attractive (?) female sewer rat and some evil frog who hates a special hatred for rats.

Evidently the frog was once the pet and constant companion of young Prince Charles. However, Charles was given a pet rat to play with, and the frog was unceremoniously flushed down the toilet. So the frog bears a strong hatred of rats.

At this point we finally get a clue in life as to why the British Royal family is so incredibly screwed up. Its not like they don't have enough money to buy dogs or cats for the young generation of British Royals to play with. But they evidently insist on providing them with some of the most revolting creatures on the planet as pets.

Maybe I'm getting a little burned out on the onslaught of animation that is cascading into theaters these days, but at the point where they are trying to get us to sympathize with particularly ugly sewer rats, I'm guessing the audience isn't going to buy in with any enthusiasm. And the whole plot about a slimy green and not too bright villian drowning a city in sewer water might touch a raw nerve in New Orleans. They already lived it. The most apt thing I can say about Flushed Away is that it probably should have been.

Last Week: The Golden Compass:

Some well honed instinct I have acquired along the way warned me to avoid seeing this movie until it came out on pay per view. That way, not only did I pay considerably less to see it, but I didn't have to make any special effort, aside from punching a few buttons on my TV remote. It is hard to express just how greatful I am that I paid about 5 bucks to see this piece of crap rather than 20. But even the fiver stings a bit.

The only thing in the world that sucks worse than a movie made for the express purpose of making another movie is an incredibly bad movie made for the express purpose of making another movie. The Golden Compass leaves us hanging in the middle of a story, but the only real unanswered question is, why does anyone want to see the rest of it? There wasn't a single redeeming quality seeping out of this mess of a movie that left me with the slightest desire to return to the alternate universe in which it is set.

Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) is a young girl who lives in an alternate universe where people's souls exist outside their body. Their souls reside in animals, who are able to shape shift during your childhood, but eventually stabilize into a single animal when adulthood is reached.

This is a whole lot less interesting than it sounds. Frankly, it doesn't even sound interesting, if you stop to think about it. Imagine for a moment, coming into contact with the most annoying, obnoxious, moronic bore you can think of...let's say, Rush Limbaugh. Not only would you have to face and converse with him, but you would also have to face his soul animal, probably a pit viper or something similar. Not very appealing, is it? Well, unfortunately, none of the characters in this story are much more fun.

Lyra is given the gift of a Golden Compass, that can answer any question put to it. She is evidently the only person who can interpret the answers, although we really never are told why. In reality, we never even cared much. Nicole Kidman is some sort of evil bitch that wants the compass for reasons that are never revealed adequately either. In truth, the motivations for either the good or evil forces in this story are never explained to any worthwhile extent, and I never cared a whit whether the good guys or bad guys won. In truth, I had a little trouble figuring out just what it was that made the good guys good, and the bad guys bad.

As close as I could figure, the troop of bad guys who were more or less led by Kidman were doing some sort of secret reasearch that was aimed at seperating children from their "demons" which was what they called the animals that possessed the soul. In other words, they more or less wanted to free everone from the burden of having some smelling, pooping, shedding varmint following everyone around everywhere. That didn't seem like such a bad proposition to me. I guess I'm going to have to confess at this point that I evidently just didn't understand the story.

It might have had something to do with the fact that I took a few brief breaks to study the back of my eyelids in detail, but I'm not sure that fully explains it. I just think that the story was kind of tossed together on a bad journey to work in a smelly commuter train one morning. But there is a more puzzling aspect to this mess of a story.

For some reason or another, a lot of devout Christians seem to get awfully worked up about it. They seem to think the whole thing is wildly anti-Christian. The suspicion here is that if they just kept their yaps shut, the movie probably would have tanked worse at the box-office than it already did, and The Golden Compass II would have had even less chance to see the light of day. On the other hand, maybe they were heavily invested in the project, and the fear of it leaving a crater and costing them a fortune necessitated a manufactured controversy. Who knows?

Somebody out there is probably going to send me some sort of lengthy analysis of this movie, which I have neither the time or interest to read. It won't likely do any good to simply ask in advance that no one bother. It'll come no matter how utterly disinterested I try to tell everyone I am in this story and whatever symbolism lies within it. All I know is that it pisses me off to see any movie that makes polar bears look bad. I like polar bears.

If you haven't seen The Golden Compass, I strongly recommend finding some other interesting way to spend an green stuff off pennies, polishing the rings in a three ring binder, dusting those little bumps on the ceiling...just about anything else really. This movie is a total waste of time and energy...and I don't care what it means.

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